Hiya! This was written for spn_summergen over on LJ. Cheers!
The absolute stillness was the worst thing Dean Winchester had ever not heard. His shouts had all been swallowed by it, as if the dead air surrounding him devoured echoes for sustenance. He had no concrete way of knowing how long he'd been out there. His watch had gone haywire and pointed to 12:01, his cell a casualty of war. Five minutes or five months, it all felt like salt crusting his skin, drying him up, preserving him like so much human jerky, another meal for the atmosphere to ingest whole. It would happen, eventually. Tomorrow or before the sun rose or Thursday, unless Thursday had already happened. No one could help him. He had already vanished without a trace. No one knew where he was, except Sam.
Dean mustered up a scrap of energy to roll onto his stomach and push himself on all fours. He squinted, for the billionth time, into the hazy, bluish darkness around him. Only the stars provided light, the night moonless and sky spotted with clouds. Night was more oppressing and claustrophobic than day. In the distance, he heard a swish of water, a rare demonstration that he wasn't, in fact, the sole living thing within hundreds of miles. It gave him no comfort, as whatever it was, was probably as predatory as the silence. He never saw anything, but he knew what was there in the deep, waiting to chew on his bones.
"Sam!" he shouted, though he knew the air would absorb his cries before his brother had the chance to hear them. If Sam was even out there. "Sammy!"
His limbs shook at the barest movements, muscles usually so strong and reliable taxed almost beyond their limitations. The slight tang of blood dotted on his lips, cracked open again and, help him, it tasted good. Dean chewed on his lip for a while, savoring the liquid while it lasted. He reached a hand over the side and scooped a handful of water, drank a few sips. The salt of it stung his lips, burned his throat. He had no choice. Drink or be drunk, sink or swim, die or die. He had an urge to laugh and refused to give that sound over to the nothingness too. Laughing would take too much energy, at any rate.
The water felt warm, here. He ran his hand down his face and flopped onto his back. Before, somewhen, they'd been in cold water. The ocean was a cold, cold place. He remembered that, or thought he did, the shock of sharp, icy water stinging against his face, pulling at his arms and legs. His brain melted a bit more each second he was out there alone, so he didn't know if what he remembered was real. If he was right about the water temperature, then he knew he was moving, drifting, or had moved before and gotten stuck. Nevertheless, Dean was convinced he was stuck on a sea of Jell-O. He'd like a bowl of Jell-O. The green kind. He was hungry and alone and going out of his mind.
He had to focus on something besides nothing and food. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen his brother, but not about the slim chances of ever seeing him again. He closed his eyes, tried to quantify the unquantifiable, and when he opened them again it was because the sun shone at the horizon. Dean groaned and shifted and shivered, shook the surprising chill of the dark hours off. Another night gone. Sleep came and went fluidly, without his permission. How many nights had it been, how many days? He peered to the left and right and saw only blue. Blue water, blue sky. Nothing else. Nothing at all. Everything was stagnant, suffocating. He dunked a hand in the sea to make sure it was real. It was, water still warm instead of cold. He wiped his hand dry on his forearm. More salt for the curing process.
His mind, though weary, returned to what he'd been on before he'd fallen unconscious. It wasn't sleep, really, he hadn't had a dream in a long time. He knew for certain only that he'd been there one day and counted back from there. Tried to. Couldn't. Everything was a blur of nothing. So he catalogued tangible things. The growth of his beard, the degree of burns on his exposed skin. If he thought of Sam, it was clearer, easier to keep track, as if picturing the horrified look on Sam's face the last time Dean had seen him, whenever it was, was a good thing.
It had been at least three days, Dean decided after a while. He might have slipped into unconsciousness again. He would call it three days, for his own peace of mind more than anything. Might have been three weeks, but he couldn't think about the random warping of time he was experiencing. On the third day he rose again, he thought. Feverishly, he scanned all four sides of his vast prison, looking for Sam walking on water. He snorted his amusement, again with no energy for a laugh and it wasn't funny anyway. Sam was the devil in waiting, or had been, not Jesus. The devil only rose from the dead if a lot of strings were pulled; Jesus had the whole Son of God thing going for him. John Winchester wasn't God, as it turned out. Therefore, Sam would not and could not walk on water.
Dean fumbled in his pocket, took out the only food that had survived with him – a mostly empty bag of Peanut M&M's that he'd only brought along on the hunt because of that old times thing – and sucked some of the melted chocolate from the inside of the bag before it became too liquid in the heat. He carefully folded the bag into a small square and put it away. The sugar gave him a small burst of energy, or he pretended it did while he also pretended he wasn't prolonging the inevitable by trying to stay alive.
Dean didn't believe in fate, yet he was apparently fated to die in the middle of the ocean, alone. The end of the world was coming and he knew he should be there to stop it. The end of the world had already come for him so many times, he couldn't care about this one anymore. Maybe tomorrow, if he was still alive, he'd care about missing his last chance to be a Big Damn Hero. The role was overrated, paid for shit and went without recognition but maybe he could still do it. Maybe he still wanted to, somewhere inside himself. He needed divine intervention from some higher power he didn't believe in. He needed Sam, who he did believe in again after so long of not.
Sam had just started being his annoying little brother again. Déjà vu. It seemed they were always trying to get back to good. Sure, it would never be the same as it once had been. It couldn't. There'd been too much shit piled on, from external forces and from both of them, he had to admit, for it to ever be the way he remembered from childhood. The Winchester good old days had consisted of monsters and demons and pain, making them not so much good as just old. He didn't want to lose his brother again, not now and not ever again. He didn't know if he could take it.
It all went crossways at once. The sea was calm and then it wasn't. Their equipment, bare bones and as non-technological as they could get these days, ceased functioning on any level just as the sea around them swelled and pitched their boat to and fro like it weighed half a pound. This was a mistake, Dean thought as he tried to find purchase. Something screeched loud above the squall, his trusty handmade EMF detector, then came a sizzling pop and the console of the boat lit up with sparks, doused out a second later by water surging through broken windows. Everything electronic was dead in the water.
A grip on his arm, strong. It felt like something cold and dark and inhuman and he tried to shake it off, then realized it wasn't any of those things. Sam, clutching at him with one hand while the other was on a window frame, blood leaking through his fingers.
"Hold on, hold on," he shouted so loud to be heard that his throat stung and felt torn. "Sam, you have to hang onto something."
"I am! Oh, shit, Dean," Sam yelled back, with a gasp. "We're gonna – "
Sam didn't have the chance to finish what he didn't have to say. Dean caught his brother's eye, saw Sam go pale and his face scrunch into an almost comical expression. He didn't know what was going on, not really. Bad juju. The Triangle was going to eat them alive and never spit them out. He knew it. They should never have come out here. He could see that truth in that flash of Sam he got before a forceful wall of water hit them, smacked Dean's head against the hard pilothouse wall, ribcage hit a knob or something. So fast. Out of nowhere. Calm sea, blink, stormy sea. Sam … flew away, water churned around him as if it were a live beast, pulled his hand from Dean's arm, into the worst of it.
Grayness at the fringes didn't prevent Dean from seeing Sam slam into the wrecked mast of the small fishing boat they'd procured, and disappear into blackness. He opened his mouth to cry out for Sam, for anyone, and it was filled immediately with salt water.
He spluttered and choked, too caught up in the unbidden memory to distinguish it from real time for a few seconds. The taste of salt and bile would never rinse from his mouth, the image of Sam being swallowed by the sea would never be erased. It was sheer luck Dean had found himself floating in the YachtSea's only lifeboat on a sea as smooth as a giant mirror, no evidence there'd been a shipwreck in sight, nothing in sight at all. He didn't remember how he'd gotten there, had no conscious memory of putting himself in the raft, so it had to be luck. Bad luck. He moved his head, shielded his eyes from the early, already hot sun, searched for signs of anything but the nothing that was doing its best to kill him in cruel slow motion. He didn't know why he kept looking for rescue.
Someday before he died, the ship in the distance might be more than a figment of his sunstroked mind.
Yesterday, he'd had four hallucinations that he could recall, and it had taken him till midway through the third to realize he was wasting precious energy by waving at nothing. There'd probably been more visions. He might be in the midst of one now. Dean gave up scanning the horizons and stared at the cloudless sky for a moment, then draped his jacket over one end of the raft, slid under it as far as he could. In the little manmade cave, the choking feeling was worse, but he knew he was only a hair's breadth away from being fried chicken and wouldn't have made it even this long had he not devised this shelter. Deep down, he thought maybe he wasn't ready to die, or to believe Sam was dead either. If he was still alive, then Sam could be. He felt a glimmer of hope at the idea, clung to it and wanted it to last more than an hour.
He drifted, if the raft didn't noticeably do the same, his mind going into a hazy, safe place while the bright nothing closed in on him just as surely as the dark nothing had all night. He was that kid in the movie with the giant white furry flying dragon that Sam (and Dean had liked it all right too, so he hadn't minded) had watched twice a day for a month solid when he was four, only he couldn't stop the nothing. He couldn't stop any of it.
"Mary, your name is Mary," he said anyway and felt stupid a second later, because there was no nameless princess with huge sad eyes here.
He wasn't the best judge, but he didn't think he had started hallucinating that badly, and even if there were a nameless huge-eyed princess floating around, this would not be some kids' movie. Sam was more like that kid until the last couple years, anyway, except that was a lie he told himself because he didn't want to admit he'd always been the pie-in-the-sky guy. No, that was Sam. Always we-can-do-it Sam.
And though Dean could not understand or condone the choices his brother had made in the last year or so, he did know that while Sam ventured into the dark, it was because he thought it the only way to get to the light. Sam had become the nothing instead of fighting it, though, had turned into a stranger who drank demon blood and slept with demons. It … was a lot to forgive. Dean wasn't sure he'd ever completely let Sam off, but he wanted to try. He was trying. Had been.
Despite his recurring thoughts of a wife and a kid and a picket fence, Sam was pretty much all he had and he knew it. Bobby and Cas were there for him, but it wasn't the same. They weren't his baby brother, no matter how much he thought of or depended on them to have his back. Sam was and always would have top billing, even after all that had happened between them. Dean smiled. Now when they were finally getting back to some kind of good this had to … he had to stop thinking about it. There wasn't anything else to think about, out in the middle of a motionless sea.
"I fucking hate Florida," Dean said. Five minutes across the border and the sweat was already sliding down his face and back. "Have I mentioned that?"
"Only about a thousand times," Sam said.
"Yeah. Well, expect it four thousand more. Florida is like its own contained, evil universe."
"Let me guess – where every guy sports a goatee and has a plan to take over the world."
"A goatee, shaved head and too many tribal tattoos." Dean snorted. "You know what I mean. Even the monsters are skankier here. We're gonna be up against something gross and you know it. Fucking Florida."
"I guess I'm not up on what makes one monster grosser than another." Sam was poking at him in that deadpan way of his. "Slime?"
"Laugh it up. I just don't think at this point we should be wasting our time someplace that puts us so many miles out from decent civilization."
"I don't think it's a waste of time to want to help people while we can," Sam said, now as serious as ever. "Besides, we could have flown."
Dean wanted to tell Sam to give up the Boy Scout act, but at the same time, he was so damn glad to have that Boy Scout part of his brother back that he held his tongue. Six of one. As far as he was concerned, there was still a lot of work to do trying to trust Sam again and he didn't want to jeopardize the progress he'd made. It wasn't worth it to rock the boat, considering the number of times he's been tipped right out of it. The end of the world was coming and he wanted them to be them for it.
"Yeah, I know. Saving people, hunting things," Dean said, took his eyes off the road to scan the Floridian wasteland that somehow looked worse than the Georgian wasteland they'd just exited. "The family business."
Sam sounded wistful, lonesome. Like the kid who'd gone off to Stanford because he didn't want to hunt things, except tempered now by the knowledge he'd never really made that choice; never been out of the life.
"Damn straight, old times." Dean flashed Sam a quick grin. "All right. Consider me on board, but let's not make this a two-week deal. We go in, we find and kill the monsters, then we get back to bigger things, as far away from Florida as we can get."
"I think this is the right call," Sam said. "We'll be here four days, tops."
"Four days, tops," Dean muttered in the darkish cocoon of his shelter. "Sammy, when I see you again I'm going to kick your ass."
But then, Dean remembered what he hadn't forgotten, he probably wouldn't see Sam again and he was positive he wouldn't be kicking anyone's ass in the foreseeable, short future. The trace amount of chocolate he'd had for breakfast was coming back to haunt him, or his stomach was trying to eat itself. That made more sense. It already felt like his arms and leg muscles had taken a big hit. Three days didn't seem like much, but under extreme circumstances, the body went into emergency reserve mode, tried to sustain life any way it could, for as long as it could. He curled into a ball, rode out the cramp in his gut. By the end of it, he'd come to a decision. If he was going to die, he didn't want to go out by starvation. Therefore, he wasn't going to starve. Or die. It would be easier to give up, roll himself off the raft into the water. He'd never in his life taken the easy road, by choice or chance. A start was him believing Sam was around for him to kick his ass, eventually.
First things first. Food, then ass kicking. There had to be fish, not just the things that went ominously, sporadically swish in the night. Once, when he'd first found himself in the middle of nowhere, he'd tried to catch food. He was pretty sure he had. Food was very important to him. Yes, he'd thought about it anyway. Dean had to admit he hadn't gone about it the right way, some grain of himself had believed that rescue would come before he really needed to eat raw fish. Delusion had clearly come early. He wondered now, in what might be a brief moment of lucidity, if the Triangle didn't only fuck with electronics. Maybe it got in a person's head, shorted circuits.
"Aruba, Jamaica, ooh, I wanna take ya," Dean chanted, his voice gruffer than usual, "Bermuda, Bahama, come on … no, no."
Jesus. If his brain were going to start misfiring like that, he would have appreciated a Brian Wilson song instead of that embarrassment The Beach Boys (who he didn't even like) had committed. Bermuda. Bermuda must be close, relatively, though, now that he thought about it. At least there was a reason that crapfest got into his noggin. He should be able to see something. He poked his head out of the shelter and squinted. Saw nothing. Dean became distracted at the thought of bikini-clad beach bunnies on Bermuda anyway, conjuring one that looked just like Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island. No. Ginger. No, both. No. What was he doing? He had to find food first, then kick Sam's ass, and then maybe he'd have time for a woman or two in bikinis before stopping the end of the world. No problem.
It was much better to be hopeful than hopeless, or else he was a giant sucker fooling himself into hope when there wasn't any. He wasn't a sucker anymore, couldn't afford the heartache. All he knew was, somehow the nothing was easier to bear if he didn't believe it would get him in the end. Dean knew if he were near Bermuda or Puerto Rico or fucking Florida, he it would help to set something up that would make his little home away from Impala more visible. Frantic arm waving at hallucinations hadn't yielded anything. The problem with that was he had nothing but the clothes on his back, and he needed them to stay on his back to protect him from the sun. If they'd been somewhere that wasn't Florida, he'd have been wearing more layers. He always had layers. They had only expected to be on a three hour tour.
"A three hour tour," he mumbled, losing a bit more of his mind. "The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed."
The bottom half of his shirt would have to do, but he had nothing to hoist it up on. It was getting more difficult to think. It always did, in the afternoons. He slipped his hand overboard, quickly dipped it in for water that didn't do much for clarity of mind. There was nothing to use as a mast. He could tie the cloth to his shoestrings and hope he had enough energy to wave it in the air when there was finally a ship. He would if he caught a fish, he reasoned. The piss poor excuse of a flag would be a backup. He'd use his cell screen to flash out an SOS, though he thought he knew that Morse Code wasn't used by anyone anymore. Didn't matter. He'd flash some ship captain in the eyes, and problem solved.
His stomach made an awful noise, half gurgle and half groan, something he'd never heard before so didn't know what to call it. Right. Food. He found his knife, thankful this was one of his small blessings in this disaster. All he had to do was … stab a fish. Sure. Piece of cake. Oh, cake. Chocolate cherry. Yellow with chocolate frosting. It was good that he was still hungry, right? Right. Hell, he'd take carrot cake.
"I dunno, it just feels like we're following a lead that's going to end up being a carrot on a stick," Dean said. "Going nowhere but in circles."
If he had to be totally truthful, his current attitude had something to do with his hatred for the state of Florida. Not everything, but enough to know he was getting on Sam's nerves by bitching about nearly every aspect of the hunt. Good, served the kid right for dragging him all the way through Florida until they were practically knocking on Cuba's door.
"You think someone or something lured us down here," Sam said. "Dean, that's farfetched."
"You do remember that frigging Lucifer is wandering around the planet … well, the US … as we sit here talking about jellyfish, right? Jellyfish, Sam. Farfetched is something not trying to distract us."
Sam gave him the archest of arch looks, expression a cross between a bad Zoolander impression and sucking on a sour citrus fruit. Been a while since Dean had seen it; he'd kind of missed it, but not really. Well, it was too bad if Sam was pissy. After Dean's last conversation with Bobby, it sounded like there was serious shit to handle back in the civilized world. He halfway wondered if Sam was trying to make this into some twisted Winchester vacation and was the one dangling the carrot. A second after he thought it, he knew it couldn't be true. There wasn't anyone more serious about stopping the apocalypse than Sam.
It had started out as redemption with a side of revenge for his brother, but Dean knew it went beyond that now, was closer to that old do-gooder Sam he had known for so long. In the first month or two after unleashing Lucifer on an unprepared world, they hadn't known for sure what was going to happen. Or, they didn't know how it was going to happen. God or whatever hadn't given them any clues. Their prophesier had up and vanished, and all they had was an angel with clipped wings. The ridiculousness of the ragtag team destined to save the world would never not be funny to him; a mostly useless angel, an old hunter in a wheelchair, an alcoholic and a recovering demon blood addict walked into a bar… Funny sad, not funny haha. Call him a skeptic, but he didn't like their odds. Especially given the fact they were working on non-apocalyptical things. The time for monsters of the week had passed.
"Yes, I know why we're here. Thousands of jellyfish don't just wash up on beaches for no known natural reason."
Dean didn't roll his eyes, but he wanted to. He asked, "You think it could be Biblical?"
"I did at first," Sam said, then chewed at the inside of his cheek for a second. "Now I'm not convinced."
"It's probably some Florida-bred monster. I think the humidity makes 'em meaner. Hungrier. More jacked up."
"I get it, Dean. You don't need to quote the whole list."
What Dean needed were paddles. Well, food. But paddles would be almost as helpful. They could be clubs or masts for flags or oars to get him moving in any direction. He didn't have paddles. He had a knife and he was going to get something to eat by using it. Until the time came, the shirt flag thing he'd ripped up could wait. He wrapped it around his head, over the tips of his ears to keep them protected. Then he scooted to the edge of the raft and peered over for the first time since day one.
The sea was so calm he could see his reflection. Dean immediately ducked back. He looked like hell. He had probably looked better when he was in Hell. His heart raced. He looked worse than he'd imagined. He braved another look. Cheeks sunken, eyes hollow and sockets also sunken, beard growth was more than it had seemed by touch. The makeshift bandana didn't help, made him seem like a shipwreck survivor. Ha. Taking it all in had him adding another day to his tally and he lost most of the hope he'd gained that Sam was alive out there. Shit, shit, fuck. He forced himself to not look at the ghoul staring up at him, and there were no fish he could see down in the depths.
"One fish, two fish," he muttered. "My kingdom for one lousy fucking fish."
He wished now that he hadn't eaten all the soggy peanuts out of his M&M's bag. Dean doubted fish liked peanuts, but maybe they could've piqued curiosity or something. Too late now. He rubbed at his stomach, hunched over a little. He really didn't know if it was hunger pangs at this point, or a sign of something worse. He wasn't sure there was anything worse. Except sure there was. Apocalypse. That smug bastard Zachariah. Pineapple. Smurfs, and their often forgotten oceanic knockoffs, the Snorks (which he'd hallucinated seeing yesterday and why they made the list). So many very bad things, he could go on for a long time. If worse came to worst, he could eat his boots. They'd been a cow or two once, and now they'd been salted. They'd taste awesome. He leaned closer to the surface of the water.
"Here, fishy, fishy."
The things that went swish in the night were probably sharks. That wasn't the kind of fishy he wanted to see, but he wasn't worried about a shark attack. He wasn't going to trail his limbs over the side of the raft or anything, but there was nothing out there going to get him. It was nothing that was winning the hand, might take the whole game after all. He didn't know what it was about the sun once it hit its zenith and crept in tiny, tiny increments to the western horizon. The heat was worse, everything was worse. Brain melting. As he leaned halfway out of the boat, breathing in air humid and salty, Dean nearly passed out. He clawed backward, hands scrabbled wildly before he flopped on his back and looked into the sky. He felt hot and cold, at the same time and also alternating. The pains in his stomach returned full force, threatened to rip him apart from the inside. He knew what that was like, and he didn't want to feel it now or ever.
He lay gasping like the proverbial fish out of water and told himself that he didn't still grasp the irony of it. Something was happening to his insides, something he recognized and didn't want to allow even though he'd probably feel better once he did. He didn't have a choice. It was when he fumbled at the buttons of his jeans that he realized he didn't have the knife anymore. Oh shit. Shit, heh. More irony. No time to worry about it. He quickly but carefully aimed his ass off the side of the raft and let his body do what it had to do.
When it was over, Dean did feel a little improved. Not much and definitely not better. He shook like a leaf and huddled on his side, clutched his stomach. He didn't ever want to do that again either. He was also reconsidering the dying thing. Spent mentally and physically, he forgot about all the things he had been doing and scrunched himself under the shelter. Just a little rest. Ten minutes, enough time for his body to recover somewhat from the illness.
It was longer than ten minutes. The sun was much closer to setting when he finally woke up, though he estimated another hour or two before darkness came. Dean crawled from his cave, soaked in sweat but he shivered off a chill. Every muscle ached, worse than they had before, anyway, like he'd deteriorated in a matter of hours. Day five was around the corner. By now, he should have seen a ship or something, a real one. Sam would have found him by now if he could. Bobby and Cas too. But he had to hold on just a little while longer, and that meant food.
Then he remembered he had lost the knife to the fish-free abyss surrounding him. He hadn't been exactly sure how he was going to use it anyway, and was grateful he hadn't nicked the raft when he lost it. He had his bootlaces and belt to use instead. It might take some time and Dean didn't like the thought of what fish might do to his fragile digestive system, but he had all the time in the world until he keeled over and died and not eating wasn't an option he could exercise anymore. He'd deal with the shit as it came.
He began fashioning a line and noose with his laces, tricky work because of his fumbling fingers. He chewed on his lower lip in concentration, tasted again the tang of his own blood. Good thing he didn't plan on hooking up with any skanky waitresses on this trip. Dean was well aware what power his lips had over the opposite sex, and right now they were fucked up beyond recognition. They were the least of his worries, really, and actually for the last couple years, that kind of fun had gradually worked its way out of his habits. Random hookups weren't fun anymore. Sam wasn't the only one who'd changed.
Sam. It always came back to his brother. Some things never changed, though for a while Dean had been done with it all. He'd been convinced the only thing he had ever fought for was worthless, his family. His family who wouldn't do for him what he did for them. That wasn't true, and he knew it now. Sam would fight for the world and Sam would fight for him – but only if he was still alive. Dean had wasted too much time being angry with his brother, and now when the world was almost over he regretted it more than anything. His hands shook worse, a physical cue to get his mind on the here and now. He finished the loop, thought it looked pathetic, and then decided to cast it off the left side of the raft. He'd already seen there were no fish on the right. There was logic there, somewhere.
He tossed the bootlace fishing pole into the water, wished he could make it longer. He had started to think the fish were out there but avoided the raft for some reason. Dean edged closer to the left side and stuck his head over to test his theory. There were no fish. But below the surface there was something. Sam. Sam drifted under water. Sam's body. It was pale and bloated and the eyes were gone, seaweed growing out of the sockets. His mouth was open, like he had died screaming. It looked like Sam, but also like something completely foreign.
"Sam," Dean choked out and fell backward. His hand clutched at the laces and his head hit against the raft. He could barely breathe. The nothing surrounding him was worse than ever, but didn't muffle the low-pitched whine he emitted. He should stop that, couldn't. "Oh shit, oh shit, Sammy."
"These things look straight out of Alien," Dean said. "Maybe we're dealing with real spacemen this time."
"I'd say that was farfetched, except you've already explained why nothing is farfetched anymore," Sam said, sounding grouchy.
Misery loved company, so Dean was kind of glad to not be alone in it. He toed the jellyfish, one of too many to count decorating the deserted, sandy beach. Another reason to hate this hunt – all the bikini-clad women were nowhere to be found. He'd bet the place had cleared out faster than Amity Island at the sight of a shark fin. Sure, a jellyfish couldn't kill you, but no one wanted to have to pee on themselves to stop the pain. He'd actually looked that up and knew it didn't really work. Of course, most people in jellyfish-prone areas knew hot water worked best. He'd looked that up too, which was about the extent of his involvement in this hunt so far. If polled, one out of two Winchesters would rather be in South Dakota. And that was saying something.
"Well, it's not. We're no closer to figuring out what caused the mass jellyfish kamikaze mission now than we were yesterday. I'd chalk the whole thing up to random freak of nature and be done with it."
Truthfully, he was disappointed. If he had to be stuck in Florida, at least they could have found a real hunt with a real monster. A skunk ape would have been a nice one to tell about to the grandkids he was never going to have because, oh, apocalypse. Or maybe they could have encountered a three-hundred-year-old man who'd found the fountain of youth and turned invisible in the swamps and was attacking people for encroaching on his territory. He frowned and tried to remember if that one was real or something from TV. He also suddenly had Three Dog Night's Joy to the World in his head, which he shook to clear. He didn't need that crap.
"Of course you would. Look, Dean, I get it. You don't want to be here." Sam turned his post demon blood addicted rendition of puppy dog eyes on him. "I just think there's something worse coming down the pike and we can stop it. If you'd help instead of snark at every opportunity, then we could get out of here sooner."
Sam was right. Dean hated to admit it, but he was. He had to get his head out of his ass and give his brother some backup. He nodded, tried to look contrite, well aware he probably only looked constipated. That was his only look lately.
They'd never get out sooner. He'd never be able to draw in a full breath again. Sam had been a few feet away all this time, having his eyeballs chewed on by fish Dean was convinced didn't exist. He'd puke his guts out, if he had anything in them to lose. The all-powerful nothing ate his anguish up and belched it back out, so it was all he could hear. Jesus. He'd suspected all along he'd never see Sam alive, but somehow having that proven true was a horrible surprise.
Dean would say he let himself have a few minutes to grieve, but it wasn't let so much as had to. The sun, though weakened by approaching dusk, burned into him through his clothes. Good. What did it matter? He'd been right when he least wanted to be. He knew what he had to do now, and it had nothing to do with saving the world. That was what he should do, but he couldn't make himself care even that little bit he had anymore. He was too tired and he had no pretense left to fight for.
He sat and stared out at the hated blue expanses of sky and sea, mentally told them to fuck off already. He didn't want to waste his hitching breaths on shouting it. If sky and water were actually sentient, they'd be the only witnesses to his death. Half an hour ago, Dean would have refused to let them have the satisfaction. Half an hour ago, knowing that his two biggest enemies would watch him go would have been enough for him to make him change his course of action. Nothing was going to do that. Except one thing. As Dean was about to slide off the raft, he took one last glance at his brother's watery grave.
Sam's corpse was nowhere to be seen. There was only seaweed, rippling slowly, dreamily. It looked like hair.
Jesus, Jesus. The shakes and sweats resurged. Dean fell onto his ass. Hallucination. It had never been real. Sam wasn't dead in the water. Now he didn't know if he was with it enough to know reality from fantasy. It didn't happen that fast. It couldn't. This was real, though, him stuck in the middle of the ocean. He was almost a hundred percent certain on that. He tilted his head back and discovered one cloud in the sky, tinted light orange from the sun setting. He was alive. He was losing it, had lost it already, but he was alive. That he did know with absolute certainty. He'd been to Hell, this wasn't a picnic, but it wasn't Hell either. He wouldn't bet this was Heaven, unless God had as sick a sense of humor as Zachariah.
"Sammy, you better not be dead for real," Dean muttered. "And if you're not, then where the fuck are you?"
Because deep down, Dean also knew Sam would have found him by now if he were alive. Unless his brother was stuck in the exact same situation as he was, the two of them adrift on an empty sea while the world was set to burn. Convenient timing made him pause for a moment, but then his stomach cramped again, reminded him what he should be doing instead of taking a dramatic swan dive into the ocean. He thought he had earned a few minutes to get over his brother's hallucinatory death. He sat for a bit, hand over his eyes, before he found his bootlaces and began trying again. It took a few minutes for him to work up the nerve to throw it overboard. He didn't want another hallucination like the last one, when the last one still felt like ice in his dried up veins.
Sam wasn't down there, looking up at him with empty eyes. It was such a relief, Dean almost sagged back. He couldn't. He had a fish to catch. Only there were no more fish on this side than the other, just an endless underwater prairie of weeds that gently swayed with the current. That must mean he was moving after all. He let his fishing string dangle, avoided looking at that spot and kept his eyes peeled for anything else moving below the surface, the silver glint of fish. He'd taken too long being sick of body and mind. Once the sun went down, that was it for hunting until morning.
It occurred to him, after some indeterminate time and no nibbles on his baitless line, that there was food to be had which didn't require much work on his part. Millions of people ate seaweed voluntarily every day.
Sam scowled when the waitress brought their food.
His brother appeared ready to complain, so Dean kicked his knee under the table and turned his charm-the-pants-off-em smile onto the worn-looking woman serving them to cover Sam's reaction. She didn't respond beyond plonking down his burger and fries, retrieving a ketchup and mustard bottle and plonking them down too. Oh, well, it wasn't like he could charm them all or had any genuine interest in this case. She'd been pretty once, but the woman was thirty-five going on seventy, a hard life clear on her face. Which was beside the point; he just didn't have time for that kind of thing anymore.
"What was that all about?" Sam asked.
"You had your bitchface on," Dean said. "Figured I'd save you some spit in your food."
The salad had come pre-dressed, while Sam had wanted dressing on the side, prissy eater that he was. The lettuce was wilted and drowning in light ranch, a small wrinkly tomato floating on the surface. Really, if Dean were going to eat that crap, he'd have wanted to send it back too. He hoped one day Sam would man up his salads with beef or something. Of course, he just plain hoped there'd be a one day, not the end of days.
"It's inedible, Dean."
"Suck it up. Dig a little, I'll bet you'll find some green in there somewhere. You wouldn't have this problem if you ordered real food like I do."
Dean had noticed the salad trend, plus extra workouts, had kicked into high gear only once Lucifer was let out. He wasn't a headshrinker, but he wondered about it all the same. It was as if Sam were exerting control where he could. Like recovering boozehounds and meth addicts and whatever all suddenly found Jesus to focus their energy on, only with Sam he'd found a more practical outlet and diversion. In the end, why his brother did the things he did didn't really matter, as long as those things didn't involve buying six-packs of demon blood and having a bender.
"Salads are real food," Sam said, in a tone that suggested annoyance but had no heat. "I'd like my arteries to remain unclogged in case we surv-"
Danger, Dean Winchester, topic about to get too heavy.
"Yeah, well," he interrupted, "better to die young and happy than live long in misery. You any closer to deciphering this mystery, Scooby?"
Sam shot him a scathing look and played bulldozer with his fork, on the hunt for an elusive piece of dressing-free lettuce. He succeeded at last and ate quickly.
"Well, I kind of wonder if it has something to do with the Bermuda Triangle. The jellyfish all drifted from that area," Sam said once his mouth was clear.
Scientists had debunked the Bermuda Triangle stories long ago. Of course, they didn't know the kinds of things Dean and Sam knew. He was sure there was a hunter in the network who specialized in the Triangle and all its lore. Or, had been at one point. In the past year or so, the hunter network they knew of had declined at nearly the same pace the demons and monsters grew in numbers, which was no small coincidence. The good guys were losing the war.
"Bobby'll know if we can get with someone here."
"Already called him, while you were in the can." Sam put his fork down, salad only a quarter eaten. "Dead end, there. Says the guy retired to Minnesota where the monsters are more normal and the people aren't on crack."
"Ha, see? From an expert. Florida sucks."